Song Of The Week: Englishman in New York by Sting

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I was watching Kingsman with my husband this week (very entertaining little film by the way, give it a whirl some time). And there was a quote that Colin Firth said which made me think about this song, which is now song of the week: Englishman In New York by Sting. The quote which took me back to this song was this:

‘Manners Maketh Man’

I hadn’t thought about that quote in years. I used to play the song a lot when I was growing up, especially when I was in high school. My school years weren’t as bad as those endured by some people I’ve known, but they had their dark spots. Sting’s song was a story about someone different. Someone who didn’t fit in, who didn’t mesh with the patterns around them. Someone who stuck out like a sore thumb, but refused to change.

I don’t drink coffee I take tea my dear
I like my toast done on the side
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I’m an Englishman in New York

Like any young girl chronically allergic to fashion, awkward around the opposite sex, achieving good marks in school and with ambitions to leave her home town, I was given a rough time. I was seen as posh because I didn’t speak with a local accent. A swot because I got good marks. A snob because I didn’t enjoy the same things as them. I wasn’t. I was just different. But that was enough of a crime in and of itself at the age of thirteen.

I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York
I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York

I felt like a legal alien growing up. Especially in my teens. I knew I was a complete fish out of water, I knew I didn’t belong where I was but had no idea where on earth I was actually meant to be. I knew that the way I was treated wasn’t fair. But I also knew that I wasn’t prepared to compromise myself to be treated differently. And my biggest aim in life, beyond all others, was to not be life them. To not become like the people who had done this to me.

When you are being bullied, ridiculed, made to look small or feel inadequate, there is something important to remember. It is nothing to do with you. You can change your hairstyle, makeup, clothing and even to a certain extent, your body shape. You can mask your interests, deny your passions and pretend to be something other than yourself. Being who you are is the one thing you have complete and utter control over. How you behave in response to others is something you have the final say in. It’s a gift.

Modesty, propriety can lead to notoriety
You could end up as the only one
Gentleness, sobriety are rare in this society
At night a candle’s brighter than the sun

If someone has decided to make you a target, there is nothing you can do to mask yourself. I know that everyone who has been, or is being, bullied wants to believe that making some sort of change will rescue them. I did, for a while, and then I realised that there was nothing I could do that would change who I was. No matter what I wore, listened to, watched or liked, I was different on the inside. Because I wasn’t happy where I was. And I knew that I wasn’t willing to settle for being unhappy for the rest of my life. But what I did decide in all of that was that I would not make anyone else feel that bad on my account. Even if I was ever given the opportunity for revenge, I vowed I wouldn’t take it. Because then they really would win. They would have changed me into being someone like them.

If “manners maketh man” as someone said
Then he’s the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say

This was the verse that got me thought a lot of hard times. Being a ‘man’ for me means something other than gender. I grew up reading ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, which was written on the wall of my English teacher’s wall. I loved reading it because it was full of strong advice on how to be a strong person and handle the myriad shite that life throws at you. And never, ever be tempted to become one of them.

Being a ‘man’ to me was about becoming the type of person who would handle that sort of thing with grace and style. Becoming someone who might well endure this treatment but would never ever dish it out. As Kipling said:

“If you can wait and not be tired by waiting Or being lied about don’t deal in lies Or being hated, don’t give way to hating And yet don’t look too good, not talk to wise”

I was suffering ignorance in my teens, and again in my twenties. I did my best to take it with a smile, at least in public. And never, ever, ever dish it out in return. No matter how much you may want to, how much you think they deserve it, or how satisfying it would feel. You just don’t. Because you’re better than that.

Takes more than combat gear to make a man
Takes more than license for a gun
Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can
A gentleman will walk but never run

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make you feel that you have actually made progress and this was a good reminder to me today. I am not living in fear of ignorance any more. That’s something positive that I need to work harder to remember when I am enduring difficult times. I am no longer a fish out of water. I found the place where I belong. And my life does not revolve around the people who I had to endure in my earlier life. I am no longer an Englishman in New York, no longer a legal alien. I am free.

If “manners maketh man” as someone said
Then he’s the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say

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